The Privacy Paradox II: An Event at Brookings on Friday

By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, January 10, 2017, 7:59 AM

On Friday morning, I will be releasing a new Brookings paper that readers may find interesting. Stewart Baker of Steptoe & Johnson and Amie Stepanovich of Access Now will be discussants on the paper, which I wrote with Emma Kohse.

Here's how Brookings is describing the event:

In the post-Snowden world, debates about privacy are ubiquitous. Some of the most heated debates center around consumer data collection by the government and large corporations, a practice that many advocates and watchdog groups seek to protect Americans from. But do Americans want or need such protection? A new Brookings paper illustrates how many of the technologies often considered to pose the greatest threats to data privacy actually offer consumers another kind of privacy that they value even more: the privacy to consume goods and media away from prying eyes.

On January 13, Governance Studies at Brookings will convene a panel of experts to discuss this “privacy paradox,” to challenge the common belief that consumers are simply willing to sacrifice privacy for convenience and cost-effectiveness when making purchasing decisions, and to determine whether it is time to redefine privacy with the consumer perspective in mind.

After the session, panelists will take audience questions.

The paper is a sequel to this one from last year, which was entitled "The Privacy Paradox: The Privacy Benefits of Privacy Threats." It argued that our privacy debate tends to measure privacy very badly and hypothesized that many of the companies we most fear on privacy grounds actually provide great privacy benefits to many consumers.

In the new paper, Emma and I tried to measure those benefits. Specifically, we used Google Surveys to run a series of public opinion probes of consumer behavior with respect to various aspects of the Privacy Paradox thesis. As we discuss in the new paper, the results strongly support the notion that a great many people are less concerned about privacy from big remote data-collecting entities than they are about privacy from the people immediately around them—indeed, that they will actively give data to such companies by way of buying more privacy in their immediate surroundings.

We will post the paper on Lawfare on Friday, and I hope you'll join us for the event.